Footballer’s bad knee is causing concern

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Footballer’s bad knee is causing concern

TRABZON, Turkey - Lee Chung-yong’s right knee and his questionable status for the friendly against Turkey early this morning have raised concerns about a possible burnout.

The 23-year-old midfielder, who plays professionally for the Bolton Wanderers, was listed as questionable heading into the international friendly against Turkey early this morning. Lee felt pain in his right knee during a national team training session in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Coming off a run to the semifinals at the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar last month, Lee had suffered a bruise to his right knee against Tottenham on Sunday. Lee is said to have felt pain in the same knee during a team practice on Wednesday. During Wednesday’s team training session, Lee looked sluggish. He had trouble sprinting at top speed and occasionally grimaced throughout training.

With Park Ji-sung announcing his premature retirement from the national team at the age of 30, at the end of the 2011 Asian Cup, there are concerns among national team staff members over whether Lee is headed down a similar path.

Much like Park did in the early phase of his career, Lee has played at a torrid pace over the course of the past two years. Since the international friendly against Bahrain on Feb. 4, 2009, Lee has played 108 matches for the national team, Bolton and FC Seoul in the span of 25 months.

Lee has been called up by the national team a total of 12 times for friendly matches, World Cup qualifiers, 2010 South Africa World Cup games and the 2011 Asian Cup contests and has been to a total of nine countries with the national team over the same period.

Having developed into one of the key components of Korea’s offense, Lee participated in two major tournaments - the 2010 World Cup last June and the 2011 Asian Cup last month - and is understandably fatigued.

“It’s not only his knee, but he’s complaining of pain in other parts of his body,” said Kim Seung-tae, the head of T.I. Sports, which represents Lee. “He’s having a hard time recuperating from fatigue at this point.”

Lee has been a valuable commodity for Bolton as well. In his month of absence for the 2011 Asian Cup, Bolton went winless with a record of one draw and four losses. Bolton was able to win its first league match in over a month with the return of Lee in its lineup with a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton on Feb. 1. It was Bolton’s first win since the 2-0 victory over West Brom on Dec. 26.

Despite Lee’s value to Bolton, manager Owen Coyle had been cautiously easing Lee back into the lineup.

“What you have to remember is that he’s been away for a month, halfway across the world,” Coyle told the Bolton News last week. “When he came in on Monday he looked really tired, so we did nothing with him until a light session on Tuesday. I can understand when we brought him off that the fans love him. So do I, but we have to make sure we have him for the duration of the season, not just 90 minutes and then lose him for a few weeks to fatigue.”

While Coyle has been cautious in his use of Lee, national team manager Cho Kwang-rae has not shown a similar attitude when it comes to calling up the talented midfielder for international games. Korea managed to advance to the semifinals of the 2011 Asian Cup before losing to Japan in the penalty shootout, and it defeated Uzbekistan 3-2 on Jan. 28. Lee returned to Bolton for about a week before being called up to play in the international friendly against Turkey.

Park Ji-sung underwent his first knee surgery in March 2003 when he was in his early 20s. Park had been exposed to fatigue in the two years leading up to the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup and the demand of playing for PSV Eindhoven of the Dutch Eredivisie, which signed Park from the Kyoto Purple Sanga after the 2002 World Cup.


By Choi Won-chang [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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